We’ve been in the Bras d’Or Lakes for seven days now. In St Peters, just at the entrance to the Lakes, we heard our first Mayday ever. A Mayday makes everyone sit up and take notice. You don’t carry on; you stop what you’re doing and pay attention. Channel 16, the hailing station, bleeped a loud, nonstop whistle; definitely unignorable. We’ve heard lots of pan-pan’s in Lake Ontario and the 1000 Islands but never a Mayday. A pan-pan means that there is an emergency on board a boat but for the time being at least, there is no immediate danger to anyone’s life or to the vessel itself. But a Mayday means someone is in serious trouble. All the boats in the marina had their VHF radios tuned in to listen. No one left the marina. We listened, obviously unable to help, but imagining ourselves in that situation. A boat had run aground in fog somewhere off Cape Canso, it’s captain had broken his arm and his leg was bleeding badly. We listened while the Halifax Coast Guard Radio gave instructions, provided encouragement, explained how they were going to rescue the boat and calmed its captain. Other boats in the area called in to see if they could help. The Coast Guard received offers of assistance from both a warship from Sydney carrying a helicopter and the icebreaker Earl Grey. In addition, there was a fishing boat one hour away. Two hours later, the captain and crew were rescued. This underscores again that the boating community is a close one (sail and motor both) and that the Canadian coast guard provides a calm voice in emergencies.
During that stay in St Peters, Blair took some time out for boat maintenance. On the few times we’ve anchored on this trip, we noticed that our windlass no longer pulled the anchor up smoothly, so Blair took it apart and discovered that three bolts had sheared off. He drilled them out, replaced them, greased the two disks and reassembled the windlass – all this in our cockpit using his lap as a workshop table; a handy guy for sure!
The Bras d’Or Lakes are much like the 1000 Islands but with tall rolling hills on all sides. There are lots of protected little anchorages to chose from and (and this is a big AND), we have Rogers cell phone coverage. This is a big plus for us as we’ve not had reliable cell coverage since Rimouski which means we haven’t had a good long palaver with our children since early July.
From Escouminac, New Brunswick right down to Isle Madame, the fishermen we’ve met have told us that the Bras d’Or Lakes are a favourite destination of theirs for summer holidays. They clean their fishing boats, removing all traces of their livelihood, pack up their families and head south to the lakes. These guys are hard workers, pulling in 45,000 pounds of lobster in the six-week summer season alone. The two boats in this picture told us they’d kept some of their lobsters alive at the end of the season to bring down to the Lakes as a treat for dinner one night. When they got anchored, they put their lobsters overboard in nets to keep them happy ’til dinnertime but by the time dinner rolled around the lobsters were none too lively. The lobsters just couldn’t handle the lower salinity of the Bras d’Or Lakes. Although the Atlantic Ocean gets in here, there really isn’t a huge tidal exchange of water. That plus all the freshwater flowing into the lakes, made this too big a change for them.
These lakes are also a popular destination for the racing set. Annual sailing regattas are held all over the lakes throughout the summer. Boats head this way from Halifax and all up and down the south and south-east shores of Nova Scotia because the fog and swell-free lakes provide a perfect race course. In Baddeck, there were no available slips at either the marina or the yacht club but we managed to snag a mooring can in amongst some pretty nice boats, most notably an Oyster 41, a Hinkley Bermuda 40 and a Beneteau 50; all here for the race week of August 5th.
Once we entered the Bras d’Or Lakes we met up with good friends of Madcap’s from Halifax, Gary and Pam Upham on Atlantic Star. Gary, an oyster lover at heart, dinghied with us up to the head of Cape George Cove and hopped out to scoop oyster after oyster out of the eel grass and into our bucket. We had them as appetizers that night; likely the freshest oysters we’ve ever had.
The Bras d’Or Lakes is actually two lakes, Bras d’Or Lake and Great Bras d’Or Lake, separated by the Barra Strait. On Bras d’Or Lake, we anchored at Cape George Cove and Little Harbour, both little gems set amongst the hills. In Little Harbour, there is virtually nothing on shore except the Cape Breton Smokehouse and restaurant. This out-of-the way restaurant served their own smoked salmon and was surprisingly busy considering it’s isolation. When we arrived for a late supper, there were seven dinghies tied to their dock and about six cars in their parking lot.
We’ve not dined out an awful lot since we left Trident because we’re finding that our dining dollars have morphed into marina dollars instead. We’ve stayed at marinas quite a bit more than expected due to weather, lack of anchorages and sometimes just because we want easy access to a town. We enjoyed our dinner that night and the following day, we hailed the bridge tender at the Barra Strait Bridge to ask him to open his bridge and we sailed past Iona and into the Great Bras d’Or Lake.
In Great Bras d’Or Lake, everyone makes a beeline to Baddeck, summer home of Alexander Graham Bell. We stayed one night around the corner in Maskell’s Cove and then another three right in Baddeck on a mooring ball. On the way into Baddeck, we detoured past the Bell estate which encompasses the entire end of a peninsula about three kilometers across the bay from the village of Baddeck. Bell purchased this property way back in the 1880s after he invented the telephone and over the years kept the townsfolk on their toes by setting the fastest water speed record in his HD-4 hydrofoil and piloting the Silver Dart in the first recorded flight in the British Commonwealth; he was just narrowly beaten out of the world record by the Wright Brothers.
We’ve enjoyed the Lakes. The pace of life is slower here, like most of the Maritimes. When you walk down the sidewalk, everyone says hello; even the teenagers! If you look like you’re even thinking of crossing the street, all traffic stops to let you jaywalk. If you look like you need a lift when you’re toting your groceries back to the boat, someone stops to offer you a ride and when the checkout girl at the Foodland says “you have yourself a really good day now”, you know she means it. This has been a good rest for us but tomorrow we leave the calm confines of the Lakes and go through St Peters lock and canal once again and head out into big waters. We’ll head back out into the Atlantic, across the shipping channels, around Cape Canso and point our bow towards Halifax.